SURREY — Voters in Surrey will elect a new mayor this fall.
In a statement Tuesday, Surrey Mayor Linda Hepner revealed she wouldn’t be seeking re-election, saying she has “thought long and hard about this” and that “now is the right time to dedicate more time to my family and friends.”
The announcement came on the same evening as the reigning Surrey First party’s AGM. The party has held all nine council seats since 2011.
Last September, Hepner told the Now-Leader she intended to seek re-election in this year’s civic election.
But she took a sharp turn Tuesday night, announcing her decision not to run.
On Wednesday morning, Hepner said health issues played a factor in “being a catalyst to my thought process.”
“I had to have a couple of biopsies recently, and there turned out to be no issues, but it did give me pause to say, I’m turning 70 in May and is this what I want for the next four years of my life? And how much is it taking away from my friends and family and husband?
“That was the deciding factor,” she told the Now-Leader.
Hepner – who was the city’s manager of economic development before first being elected in 2005 – said she wants more time with her grandchildren.
“Just as an example of how busy life is, my sister, who I haven’t seen in four years, I have been trying to find on my calendar half a day to spend with her. I just want more time,” Hepner told the Now-Leader.
“I think over the last 33 years, every morning I wake up I think about the City of Surrey because that’s been my job and my honour to be able to do that,” she added. “But the time is right that I wake up thinking about my family and my friends and myself.”
Surrey Board of Trade CEO Anita Huberman thanked Hepner for her service in a release, including her “support for economic investments in transit and the Innovation Boulevard, for her ongoing support for the Surrey Board of Trade’s work to grow and attract businesses.”
Meantime, Hepner said she will support whoever Surrey First’s mayoral candidate is.
While no Surrey First councillors have officially thrown their hat in the ring yet, four tell the Now-Leader they’re eyeing the mayor’s chair.
Councillor Tom Gill, who has served on council since 2005, said he is considering a mayoral run. “I am most definitely interested in looking at this opportunity,” Gill told the Now-Leader.
“I think there’s many things to look at both in terms of what’s in the best interest of the team and what’s in the best interest of my family and myself,” he added.
Wednesday morning, Gill said no changes to Surrey First’s directors were made during Tuesday’s AGM.
Gill wouldn’t confirm if voters could expect Surrey First to run a full slate.
“I think we haven’t got to that point in terms of what the intent is,” Gill said. “Certainly, I can tell you in the next few weeks we’re going to be ironing that out…. and what a mayoral candidate may look like.”
He added: “We’re running short on time, we’ll be making decisions shortly.”
Asked if he would split from the party if he didn’t receive its mayoral nomination, Gill would only say, “I am focused on the Surrey First nomination at this point.”
Second-term Surrey First Councillor Bruce Hayne, first elected in 2011, won’t rule out a mayoral run either.
Hayne told the Now-Leader that “quite a few people” have asked that question, adding, “certainly, I’m thinking about it.”
First-term Councillor Mike Starchuk is also considering a run, saying he’s always focused on “keeping doors open” and “this is another one of those doors I want to keep open for as long as I can.” Starchuk vowed to stay with the party even if he doesn’t receive Surrey First’s mayoral nomination.
“I will never forget what group of people provided me with this seat to sit in,” he added.
Asked if other Surrey First councillors are considering a run, Starchuk said, “I haven’t heard anybody say, ‘No, I’m not going to.’”
First-time Councillor Vera LeFranc, likewise, is giving a mayoral run “serious” consideration. “We will work together as a team to decide who the most appropriate mayoral candidate will be,” she told the Now-Leader.
In the 2014 civic election, Hepner received 50,782 votes – nearly twice that of her nearest opponent.
Safe Surrey Coalition’s Doug McCallum and One Surrey’s Barinder Rasode were far behind, with 28,010 and 21,335 respectively.
Rasode, who split from Surrey First ahead of the 2014 civic election to run as a mayoral candidate, told the Now-Leader on April 5 she hasn’t ruled out another attempt at landing the mayor’s seat. “I’ve continued to be engaged with the community,” she said Thursday when asked of her intentions.
“I certainly enjoyed my time working with the residents in moving important issues forward at the City of Surrey. At this point I’m not ruling it out, but I haven’t made a final decision.”
Former mayor McCallum, meantime, told the Now-Leader on April 2 there is a “10 to 15 per cent” chance he’ll take another shot at the mayor’s chair but that he has yet to decide.
Will Watts return?
Rumours are swirling that former mayor Dianne Watts may seek a comeback.
On Tuesday, she laughed the rumours off as just that.
“No, I’m not running for mayor,” she told the Now-Leader. “Lots of rumours going around.”
The former leader of Surrey left after three terms as mayor. She had previously called for a nine-year term limit for city council members and said she wouldn’t serve more than that herself – and stuck to her word.
“As in every book, there comes a time to turn the page and to end a chapter. And I feel that I have completed this chapter in my life and it’s time to pass the torch,” Watts said in 2014.
“Every great city has a vibrant downtown core with iconic architecture that will stand the test of time. The vision, the transformation and building a city from the ground up most definitely takes vision and steadfast determination.”
Watts was first elected in 1996 as a councillor under former mayor Doug McCallum. Leading up to the 2005 election, Watts had a public spat with McCallum over charges of bullying.
She made political history when she defeated McCallum and became the city’s first female mayor in 2005. She later formed Surrey First, which swept all of the council seats in the 2011 election, ousting longtime councillor and former mayor Bob Bose.
After leaving the mayor’s chair, Watts landed a federal seat, as a Conservative MP for South Surrey-White Rock in 2015 after then-MP Russ Hiebert announced he wouldn’t be seeking re-election.But she resigned that seat last September to run for leader of the BC Liberal Party. She lost that bid in February, when Vancouver-Quilchena MLA Andrew Wilkinson won the leadership race.
Two new slates
Meantime, two new slates have materialized so far this year: Surrey Community Alliance (SCA) and People First Surrey.
Doug Elford, president of SCA, says he’s mulling a run at the mayor’s chair, but told the Now-Leader the party is not yet sure if they’ll produce a mayoral candidate.
People First Surrey’s Rajesh Jayaprakash told the Now-Leader it’s “too early to say” if that party will have a mayoral candidate.
Just over 100,000 people cast a ballot in Surrey in the 2014 civic election, up from 70,253 in 2011. Out of 287,940 eligible Surrey voters, the city said 101,558 cast a ballot – a 35.3 per cent voter turnout. That is up from 2008 and 2011 elections, which saw a 24.1 per cent and 25 per cent turnout respectively.
Surrey residents head to the polls on Oct. 20.